Michael NnebeSunday, August 24, 2014
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eople like me often direct their torchlight on areas where our various governments have fallen short. This is a role I play freely, and without any encumbrance other than my conscience, and the persistent need to be truthful, and not to misinform those who care to read what I have to say. It is not my job to sing the praises for any government or individual politician, for I imagine that most governments in Nigeria, from local to federal, have a budget and people whose job it is to publicize their good deeds. Even when they are not doing well, their propaganda machine is always grinding non-stop. But as a citizen, I feel obligated to applaud our government, whether local, state, or federal, when they are doing exceptionally well. In the past few weeks I have followed very closely the activities of Governor Fashola and his team in Lagos state, as well as Nigeria's health minister, Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu and his federal team. And I must confess that I am extremely proud of what they have done to keep Nigeria safe, how they have put aside politics to work closely for the sake of Nigerians, and how in doing so they have somewhat saved Nigeria from what could have been an unmitigated disaster.

To appreciate how lucky we are in Nigeria, one ought to take a closer look at the other three West African countries that are currently suffering the scourge of ebola. People have been dropping like flies in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Sometime last week, Liberia lost 54 people to ebola within a 3-day period. That is how widespread and devastating it has been in these three countries. It is true that Nigeria was not an originator of this plague that has so far killed nearly 1,500 across West Africa, but once Mr. Patrick Sawyer brought it into our shores, it could have easily spiraled uncontrollably, especially in such an overpopulated area as Lagos. I used the word luck, not to undermine the commendable work done by many to stem this tide, but could you imagine what would have happened if Mr. Sawyer made it to the convention in Calabar, his intended destination. Even when Mr. Sawyer fell ill upon his arrival at the airport in Lagos and was immediately taken to the First Consultants Medical Center, he lied repeatedly that he ever had any contact with any ebola patient in Liberia. He told this lie to those treating him, in spite of the obvious truth that his own sister had just died of ebola, and that he was supposed to be under isolation or quarantine in Liberia.

Thanks to the leadership of Dr. Adadevoh and her colleagues at First Consultants Medical Center; they became the firewall that protected many others, and refused to allow Sawyer to continue to Calabar despite pressures from Liberian diplomats. Sadly, two of these doctors and two nurses have now lost their lives in the process. Surely, Nigeria needs to do something to reward their families, and to immortalize them for their sacrifices. As we celebrate the efforts of those medical workers at First Consultants Medical Center, the big story is actually the proactive efforts by Governor Fashola and his crew, which went into overdrive from the very first day, and the subsequent and praiseworthy efforts by the federal government as directed by President Jonathan, but more directly through the engaging efforts of our Minister of Health and his team. Fashola and his crew were the first to hold repeated press conferences, educating and advising the people of Lagos on what to do and how to stay safe in the face of a potential outbreak. They even visited many prayer houses including that of T.B. Joshua to caution against allowing people coming for healing from affected countries. They embarked on elaborate awareness campaign to educate the chiefs, the health workers, and various other sectors as well as the general public.

Quite frankly, the Lagos state awareness campaign was very impressive. It goes to show that even politicians can be very effective if they choose to do the right thing. But you can also count on the ingenuity of Nigerians to make money out of any situation. Bitter kola nuts sellers were the first to peddle the false rumor that their product cures ebola, then the regular kola nuts became the cure, then the well peddled rumor to take a bath with salt and to drink the salt water. You would be amazed to know the level of ignorance that still exist in Nigeria, even among some medical workers who not only took a bath with salt, but also added some white maggi for better efficacy. Unfortunately, we lost more hypertensive people who drank a lot of salt than we have so far lost from ebola virus. Once we are told to use hand sanitizers, special "Ebola Sanitizer" flooded the market. Within a few days of Mr. Sawyer's arrival and death in Lagos, the Nigerian government began to take over the management and control of this crisis from Lagos state, especially when it became clear that several primary care givers to Sawyer have been exposed unprotected to the dying man before they finally learned the truth about him. Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu and his federal crew began a daily press briefing during which they gave frank account of what was going on, the actual numbers of those who are primary and secondary contacts, the efforts they are making to track everyone, and to inform us when an additional person tests positive for the ebola virus. In all, it was not your typical government bullcrap, and I was simply impressed.

How ironic that it took such crisis for us to witness our government in action, especially the cooperation that is going on between an APC Lagos state and the PDP controlled federal government, rather like the Obama and the Republican New Jersey governor (Chris Christy) during the last flooding disaster in the northeast of America two years ago. Talk of America, Dr. Kent Brantly and another American health worker were both discharged from Emory Hospital in Atlanta after a successful rehabilitation/cure from ebola. Some have credited their survival to Zimmap, the yet to be tried on human ebola drug. Those who do not understand the long, expensive, and tightly regulated FDA drug approval process have criticized America for refusing to send Zimmap to Nigeria. The bottom line is that no one knows whether their recovery has anything to do with Zimmap, after all, the Spanish missionary airlifted to Spain from Liberia also received Zimmap yet died in Spain, so go figure. While you celebrate America's supremacy medically, perhaps I need to remind you that Nigeria, without Zimmap, has so far managed successfully and discharged five ebola patients from quarantine, and it is possible that a few more may be discharged in the near future.

Even the bone-headed nurse that brought this ebola to Enugu has now, along with her husband, been treated and discharged from quarantine. But it appears that her initial positive result was a false positive, as she consistently tested negative since she arrived with her husband to the quarantine. Our government officials responsible for managing this crisis have apparently been overcautious, which is the attitude needed to make sure this minor crisis did not become an unmanageable epidemic in Nigeria. Unfortunately though, two spouses of dead healthcare workers have now tested positive in the last few days. These are the spouses of those who treated Sawyer, both of whom have already died. In spite of this minor development, which clearly represents a setback for Nigeria, I am certain that the efforts of our government will ultimately bring about a successful resolution of this crisis with minimal loss of Nigerian lives. Our government have not relented either; after a meeting between President Jonathan and all the governors, many states have now embarked on their own awareness campaign to educate their indigenes, especially to separate the facts from the myth.

In all, we are not out of the woods yet, but I am encouraged by the efforts of our governments at all levels, especially the Lagos state government at the epicenter of this crisis, and a well-coordinated federal effort to get hold of the ebola problem before it spreads like wildfire across the country. With this, I honestly hope that our politicians can learn their lessons on how to work together for the benefit of Nigeria regardless of their political differences. As at today, Nigeria has only four people in isolation that have tested positive, and that includes the two spouses of dead ebola victims. I do not expect miracles, and anything can still happen, but on what has happened so far, I say a big KUDOS to Nigerian government, Lagos state government, and all the other states making worthy efforts to keep us all safe.